1998 Conference Proceedings

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Robbie Wise
Los Angeles Superintendent of School
Washington O.H. School
1150 Lillianthal Lane
Redondo Beach, CA 90278
Phone: (310) 379-2403
Fax: (310) 379-3703

What a difference a few years makes! In nonverbal communication we’ve gone from a time when many resorted to xeroxing pictures for teacher-made communication boards, to a time when complete overlays can be made on computers. In addition, initially voice-output devices required a cognitive level capable of spelling out a message. Now the marketplace is full of communication devices capable of storing preprogrammed thoughts. Devices tailored for the abilities of those who possess communication gifts, but struggle with a cognitive delay.

The result: professionals are matching a much wider range of individuals to voice output communication devices. As time has passed, we’ve realized that the enormous care and effort it takes to get to the point where your student or loved one is sitting across from their very own voice-output communication device, is actually the easy stuff. Now comes the real work. How do we get someone who is used to not verbally communicating, “talking?”

The answer: directed, supportive, compassionate teaching. All of the technology in the world won’t change the fact that it’s difficult to learn to communicate with anything other than one’s voice, especially if one is also compromised by a cognitive delay. But wait! The good news is that if one is willing to think of communicating as a behavior, a behavior which requires shaping, many individuals with significant cognitive delays can learn to communicate amazingly effectively. In fact, we have seen many cases where motivated communicators, be they delayed, grow to communicate more spontaneously than their more cognitively gifted nonverbal peers.

The key (or at least a big part of it): Communication Programming Resuscitation or CPR for AAC. This session will explain how one performs CPR for AAC, but it doesn’t take a teaching degree to understand this concept. In a nutshell student can “say” a preprogrammed thought upon request; make certain that they can find it on their talker.

2. Give examples of when that thought could be used (you know, breathe “life” into a one dimensional thought; describe different real-life situations where that particular thought could be useful.)

3. Give opportunities in structured activities to let students practice role playing using the preprogrammed thought.

4. And most importantly, be sensitive to real-life situations when your student could possibly “say” a message. Listen for the quiet! If you don’t hear that message, prompt its use!

Maybe you’ll be lucky and you’ll program thoughts for your child and BINGO! they’ll use them appropriately and spontaneously. If not, it may take you teaching in structured lessons and prompting in real-life to jump start students using preprogrammed communication.

This session is dedicated to teaching. Just common sense, low tech teaching. Perhaps if people in the world at large practiced AAC, nonverbal children could just model what they see around them. However, with few or no models to learn from, it’s understandable that it will take directed, supportive teaching to unlock the door to productive nonverbal communication. But parents and teachers alike can do just that. The key ingredients to being effective and truly helpful, are really simple things. Things like practicing the ability to follow verbal directions. Things like building structured lessons into each day, when students practice the use of their “talkers.” Things like making communication devices available and then requiring students to use them. And perhaps the most basic and compassionate technique of all. Knowing what is programmed on your child’s device and helping them outhe use of their talker throughout the day.

So what will you get from this session? Hopefully, you’ll take in an approach. An approach based on the assumption that it is up to all of us to help someone who is used to not talking, learn when and how to “talk.”

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